A North Korean soldier stands watch on the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone seen from Panmunjom, South Korea. Pyongyang has previously sent back South Koreans who were not charged with political crimes and on Tuesday North Korea repatriated a 48-year-old South Korean national. File Photo by Spike Call/U.S. Navy | License Photo
SEOUL, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- North Korea repatriated a South Korean man who crossed illegally into the country in September, Seoul's Unification Ministry said Tuesday.
"At 9:45 a.m. we received a notice sent in the name of Red Cross Chairman Ri Chung Bok, indicating that the North is to return a South Korean national who crossed into the country illegally," a Unification Ministry official said, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
The 48-year-old man, only identified by his surname Lee, had entered North Korea illegally on Sept. 30, according to North Korea. News 1 reported the South Korean national was returned to Seoul authorities at the truce village of Panmunjom at 4:30 p.m., as indicated on the notice sent to the South.
South Korean authorities said they would decide on a judicial process after determining the details of Lee's border crossing and his whereabouts during his detention in North Korea.
The Unification Ministry official said the government is relieved over the North's decision to repatriate a South Korean citizen, and that Seoul urges Pyongyang to release other South Korean citizens "as soon as possible."
North Korea has yet to provide any updates on detained South Korean nationals Kim Jeong-uk, Kim Guk-gi and Choe Chun-gil. In March, Seoul confirmed Kim Guk-gi is a minister affiliated with a Christian association in Seoul, and Pyongyang has accused Choe of espionage.
North Korea's repatriation of Lee comes as a surprise, but Pyongyang has previously sent back South Koreans who were not charged with political crimes, including South Korean New York University student Joo Won-moon, and two South Korean nationals who were detained at the China-North Korea border in May.
Seoul has said North Korea retains 40,000 abducted South Koreans since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.